When computers fail, Herald can’t go back to lead type

Imagine a mechanic diagnosing and repairing a car’s engine while the vehicle is speeding down the road.

And the driver is trying to beat the clock.

That’s the position in which Herald Technical Services Manager Michael Lapham found himself Wednesday night. The Herald’s news desk and the sports desk worked to finish editing stories and putting articles and photos on pages to make the deadline for Thursday’s edition. If editors made that deadline, the press would start on time, route drivers would get their papers on schedule and The Herald would be on your doorstep when you expected it.

As with many businesses, much of what The Herald does depends on computers and networks, which sometimes fail, usually without warning.

On Wednesday at 9:15 p.m., 90 minutes before the Herald’s deadline, Lapham got a call at home. The computers and servers that allow editors to create newspaper pages had failed.

Sometimes the solution to such a failure is simple: just reboot the computer and go home.

But Wednesday night was different.

“As soon as I saw the problem, I got sick to my stomach,” Lapham said Friday, even as work continued to restore lost data and return things to normal.

Simply put, Lapham said, the system’s server, where data files are stored, had been corrupted and could not locate data. No data, no pages.

Putting things simply is one of Lapham’s skills, said the Herald’s publisher, David Dadisman.

“He’s able to dumb everything down for people like me when a server or disk has been corrupted. What does that mean? And what we have to do to get back on our feet?” Dadisman said.

Lapham worked first to restore some functionality for editors, who then were able to work outside the system. A page template, taken from a sports editor’s thumb drive, allowed editors to begin cobbling together pages, sometimes copying stories that had already been sent to the HeraldNet website. It resembled desktop publishing more than newspaper production.

The computer system The Herald uses is a network of software programs, processes and hardware used by the newspaper’s different departments. Knowing how those programs and processes work together is another of Lapham’s talents. As is listening to an employee describe a problem and then determining where the failure lies.

Lapham must stay current on technologies that evolve quickly. He reads online forums and articles and can point to a stack of magazines “that high” on his desk waiting to be read.

“You have to be a very smart person,” said the manager in charge of information services, Jorge Rivera. “You have to be very knowledgeable. You have to be resilient and not get frustrated and stick with it until it’s fixed.”

Lapham stuck with it, running diagnostics, talking with software and hardware company technicians as processes were brought back online, one at a time. Lapham got no sleep Wednesday night, and managed six hours Thursday night before returning to mop-up remaining problems Friday.

In the end, Lapham said, it was a credit to employees, from the newsroom to the pressroom, that The Herald was only an hour late getting to route drivers Thursday morning.

It’s challenging work with an added demand, Rivera noted, because The Herald has almost 50,000 people who wake up and expect to find their paper on their doorsteps in the morning.

Each week, Here at The Herald provides an inside peek at the newspaper. Is there something you would like to know? Email executive editor Neal Pattison at npattison@heraldnet.com.

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